What to Expect When You’re Expecting... a C: A Dejected Freshman’s Guide to Navigating UC Berkeley Academics

You might have already noticed, but the title is a bit of an oxymoron… I mean, have you ever seen the words “freshman” and “guide” next to one another before? Likely not. And probably with good reason, too. What does a freshman even have to teach other freshmen about succeeding in a school as rigorous as Cal? I guess you’ll have to keep reading and see! Originally, I developed this idea for an article several months ago, at the beginning of the semester. In fact, on one sunny afternoon back in September, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Sydney Segal thought to herself: “It’s only been four weeks, but college academics are scary! It’s daunting to be responsible for reading each week to prepare myself for the 3-4 exams/essays that determine an entire grade. Maybe I’m not an expert on ‘navigating college academics’ yet, but this could be an article I write later down the line or toward the end of the semester when I get the hang of things… right?”


So, hello! Welcome to my article. I’m thrilled to say I won’t be getting any C’s this semester, though my strategies for staying afloat at UC Berkeley are not quite tried-and-true––even “toward the end of the semester.” My tips and tricks for staying emotionally healthy have served me well these first few months, but, of course, I’m no master. In fact, while my Netflix appetite has been assuaged and my heart’s happy after talking to my friends from home, my brain may or may not be screaming for air. 

On that incredibly positive note, here is the best advice I have as a nearly second-semester freshman for “succeeding” at UC Berkeley.

1) Remember to take classes that interest you. Ignoring those around me who tried to warn me of this fact was my first mistake this year! When I’m asked about which class I’m enjoying most… I don’t have an answer. They’re all ~eh~ except for my elective which I, unfortunately, can’t throw myself into as much as I need to my major requirements. That said, make sure to balance your schedule with classes you enjoy so that you’re not overcome with stress. 

2) Take advantage of professors’ office hours. I heard this often before coming to college and am immensely glad I listened. My papers, study habits, people skills, collegiate-feeling-ness, etc. have all improved simply by going out of my way to ask for help. You might be nervous to do so at first, especially in a large lecture; however, it had allowed me to feel more confident and in-control of my education.

3) Among tens of thousands of bright minds, accept that you might just be *gulp* ~average~. And, it’s okay! I know that I put immense, unnecessary pressure on myself to do well and keep up with those around me whose brains work differently. If you’re anything like me, you need to stop comparing yourself to others and just try as best you can to succeed. Berkeley is a tough school, but you’re just as strong, too! 4) Sleep. Again, this has been another one of my mistakes this year. Planning for sleep is hard but so important. There’s a certain allure of life without parents to force you into a bed which causes freshmen to end up chronically tired and miserable. It feels fun sometimes to stay up late and still get up relatively early for lecture, but our bodies and brains need rest to function––upon which our success and livelihoods are dependent. Do your best to schedule your own bedtime; “sleep is good for you,” or whatever. 

5) Take time for yourself. Breathe. Watch TV. Listen to music. Nap. Call your friends. Call your family. Join a club. Go to social events. Have fun. You’re at Cal to study and earn a degree, but it does not have to be your entire life. I’ve spent entire days in the library and 10/10 would NOT recommend. Remember to care for yourself and be a living, breathing person. Do things that make you happy! 

6) Don’t drop out. You got this. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that you must live, breathe, eat, and sleep school. I might even still be stuck in it; however, I’m heeding the advice of other people and learning. In the end, college is all about new experiences and learning––not just in a classroom. 

Now, good luck on finals! Even if you don’t, please know that this big-headed, delusional freshman believes in you.